If you don't want to spend as much time and money marketing your course, you can always try to sell your content on course marketplaces with existing audiences. Here are 10 you may want to consider.
Free & Freemium Online Course Creation Software for WordPress
You may not want to spend a lot on software to create and deliver your first online course via WordPress. We've listed a few options below that let you do quite a bit for free but then charge for additional features.
In my research, its been hard to find quality course creation software that is completely free and still a decent option to sell courses. There is a lot of money to be made from this type of software and not much incentive for someone to develop a program like this and give it away.
I'd like to stress from the start that free options may be enticing, but also consider the cost of your time, the ability of the software to meet your needs, the developer's commitment to keep the software updated and free from security exploits, and what kind of marketing flexibility the software offers so you can maximize sales of your courses. Also consider easy the software is for your students to use so they don't get frustrated with their learning experience.
If you aren't looking to make any money from your courses, some of these options might be a great fit.
Software for Both Course Authoring and Learning Management
In this list, I've chosen software that contains both course authoring and learning management so you don't need separate programs for each task. Course authoring is for you to develop the lessons and courses. The learning management system is what the students interact with.
Free vs Freemium
Software that is truly free doesn't charge for any features at all. Freemium software offers some features for free but charges for others. This model allows you to learn the software without charge and then when you are ready, can start adding on more features (typically ones that actually help you sell your product). The philosophy seems to be, “if you make money, we make money.” That sounds fair to me.
Freemium Course Creation Software for WordPress
The four programs that have free course authoring and learning management components are LearnPress, Sensei LMS, Namaste! LMS, and WPCourses.
Here is a chart of what core features they offer, which are free, and which ones you need to pay for.
Freemium WordPress LMS Comparison
|LearnPress||Sensei LMS||Namaste! LMS||WPCourses|
|eCommerce||Paid Add On||Paid Add On||Paid Add on||Paid Add On|
|Quizzes||X||X||w/plugins (free & paid)||Paid Add On|
|Gamification||w/GamiPress Plugin||w/GamiPress Plugin||Paid Add On||No|
|Content Drip||Paid Add On||Paid Add On||Paid Add On||No|
|Student Progress Tracking||Paid Add On||X||X||No|
Notice that if you want to sell your courses, all require payment for ecommerce integration. Also, more popular features like content drip and gamification either require payment or an additional plugin like GamiPress (which has a free and paid option depending on features).
Option 1 – LearnPress
LearnPress is a learning management system plugin by a company called Thimpress out of Viet Nam. Here is a video overview of the plugin and its features from the developer:
Features offered for free:
- Course creation – drag and drop course builder with the ability to control course layout, quizzes, and lessons. Allows text, images, video, PowerPoint slides, and documents.
- Course management – enroll students and instructors
- Quizzes – 3 types of quizzes: true or false, single choice, or multiple choice. You can also set a time limit for taking a quiz, allow students to retake quizzes a set number of times, control whether you want to show the correct quiz answer if they student misses the question.
Some of the Paid features:
- Content Drip ($39.99) – schedule certain content in your course to be available at a predetermined time, after a certain lesson is completed, or when another lesson has been opened. This feature lets you force students to complete certain tasks before starting others. For instance, you could make a quiz appear only after students have completed certain lessons first.
- Paid Membership Pro ($39.99) – this add on lets you integrate the Paid Memberships Pro plugin and control access to your courses through monthly membership fees, recurring fees, or however you want to structure your pricing. Note that this add on only allows for integration – you still need Paid Membership Pro which has both a limited free option or paid plans starting at $297.
- Assignments ($39.99) – create and grade homework for your students in addition to the quizzes that come with the free version of the program.
- WooCommerce ($39.99) – if you want to integrate the free WooCommerce plugin to sell courses, it will cost you this fee to connect the plugin.
- Payment Gateways ($29.99-$39.99 each) – take payments via Stripe, Authorize.net, or 2Checkout. There is a separate cost for each of these programs unless you buy the $249 bundle which includes all of these.
- Gradebook ($29.99) – track student progress and grades in their lessons, quizzes, and how far along they are in the course as a whole.
What People are Saying About LearnPress
Given that LearnPress has an affiliate program, I would expect some of the reviews online to be skewed in favor of pushing visitors to buy the product. However, here are some of the pros and cons from my research:
- Free core features
- Looks nice
- Many complaints about poor support
- Technical problems/bugs
- Does not integrate well with some plugins
The numerous complaints we saw about technical problems would personally make me think twice about moving forward with the program.
Option 2 – Sensei LMS
Sensei LMS was created by the same people behind WooCommerce which is now owned by Automattic, the company WordPress.com, Akismet, Jetpack and other popular services.
Sensei LMS is a fairly basic course authoring and learning management tool that seems to lag behind other commercial products quite a bit in terms of features and development progress. It seems fairly easy to use and there are some decent features offered in the free version. However, if you want to start selling courses, you will need to pay $129 to use the WooCommerce shopping cart plugin which is currently the only cart integration offered in the program.
Features offered for free via core plugin or extensions:
- Course Authoring – create modules and lessons, add text and video to lessons, allow students to preview lessons before purchasing
- Quizzes – True or False, multiple choice, automatic quiz grading on submission
- Learner Management – adding and removing students, private messaging between teachers and students
- Assign Teachers – give any user access to a teacher role to grade quizzes and manage learners
- Course Progress – students can which lessons they have completed via a sidebar widget list
- Certificates – award students a certificate of completion that can be printed
- Media Attachments – attach additional files to the course for students to read, listen to, etc.
- Course Participants – show visitors how many people are enrolled in a course as social proof of its popularity
Some of the Paid features:
- WooCommerce Paid Course ($129 for 1 site, $179 for 5 sites) – sell courses in Sensei via the WooCommerce plugin which is developed by the same company, can offer a free trial for a course, accept recurring payments to continue accessing a course over time
- Content Drip – control when students can access lessons by a fixed date or how long after they start a course
What People are Saying About Sensei LMS
- Good integration with WooCommerce
- Very slow development
- Trouble working with themes not developed by WooCommerce
- Slow support response
- Not many features
The slow development cycle might be a red flag for me since there may not be sufficient dedication to improve the product over time.
Option 3 – WP Courses
WPCourses frankly doesn't seem to offer a lot, even in some of the paid modules. It is very basic but setup seems quick. Paid plugins don't seem to offers as much as other software in terms of comparing what the features actually provide in terms of functionality.
Here is a video by the developer that gives you an overview of what WPCourses offers.
WPCourses seems be a going for a very simple, easy, basic approach. The developer offers 12 free video tutorials on how to set up a course and work through the basic features. These tutorials might be worth watch if you want to explore if WPCourses is the right fit for your needs.
- Create unlimited courses
- Restrict lesson content to logged in users
- Add teachers to courses
- WooCommerce Integration ($39.95) – sell courses through the WooCommerce plugin.
- Paid Memberships Pro Integration ($39.95) – restrict access to your courses to only paying customers
- Quizzes ($39.95) – only offers multiple choice quiz options
- File Attachments ($39.95) – attach up to three files per lesson in any media format supported by WordPress
- User Activity ($9.95) – a shortcode that lets users see a list of their 50 previously viewed lessons
What People are Saying About WPCourses
- Simple and easy to use
- Lacks features
This might be an OK option if you like the simplicity, don't want to pay much for add ons, and don't need the features offered in other programs. However, due to the lack of feedback and comments from users on the web, I wonder how much this software is being used.
Option 4 – Namaste! LMS
Namaste! LMS is an open source LMS project from Kiboko Labs of Bulgaria. Out of the four listed on this page, it tends to get the best reviews and is the one we recommend if you absolutely want to start with a free version.
The program comes with a fairly strong core of free features that can be enhanced by a fairly low-cost pro version. The Pro version is a one-time purchase and not annual fees like many commercial options.
- Course creation – create an unlimited number of courses, create lessons from any kind of media format that is accepted by WordPress, add assignments
- Student management – automatic or manual student enrollment
- Certificates – give students certificates upon completing a course
- Quizzes & Exams – basic quiz and exam functionality offered via the free Watu plugin; single choice, multiple choice, and written question types; grading; pull random questions from a question pool
- Content restriction – protect and restrict content with the free Knooichiwa! plugin which can integrate with PayPal or Stripe
Namaste! Pro Paid Features ($47-$127 – one-time purchase):
- Restrict lessons to paying students
- Restrict access to any of your course content
- Assign teachers to help manage courses
- Award badges and points for student task completion
- Sell courses to a group of students (selling to schools)
- Student progress bar
- Leaderboards for top point earning students
- Enable shopping cart integration with WooCommerce or WP Simple Shopping Cart
What People are Saying About Namaste! LMS
- Affordable Pro version
- For basic course selling needs, it will do the job
- Simple and easy to use
- Good customer support
- Program has improved quite a bit over the last few years
- Pro version not as full featured as other commercial options
The word on the streets seems very positive in favor of Namaste! LMS. It sounds fairly well supported and you will be able to keep costs low with the one time purchases. However, if you want more features, we think the next option may be best.
Option 5 – Choose a High Value Commercial Option Like LearnDash
Out of all the options above Namaste! received the highest marks from users. Still if you need more features and options than the paid Namaste! Pro offers (which you have to pay for), there are some great options. The one program we are seeing that gets enthusiastic reviews all over the place is LearnDash.
On their home page, LearnDash says that large companies and universities have chosen their program including the University of Florida, University of Michigan, University of Washington, Infusionsoft, ProBlogger and others.
Here is what LearnDash has to offer:
- Create unlimited course
- Drag and drop course builder
- Use virtually any media type in your course
- Manage unlimited users
- Content protection – no need for an additional membership plugin
- Set course prerequisites
- Drip feed lessons – schedule content to create a guided learning experience, set a specific date or a certain number of days after enrollment
- Quizzes – eight different question types (single answer, multiple choice, sorting, matching, fill in the blank, text fill in, survey, essay questions; quiz timer; question banks
- Gamification rewards – certificates, badges, and points for completing tasks
- Forums for course participants – set a forum for each course so students can communicate with one another and with teachers and admin
- Offer free samples of course content before purchasing
- Charge a one time fee or subscriptions to your courses
- Shopping cart integration with WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads, or iThemes Exchange – can also offer an affiliate program
- Sell multiple courses in bundles
- User profiles for every user that shows which courses they can access, progress, quiz results, certificates etc.
- Reports to view course progress, how much time each learner has spent on a course, quiz scores and more options with the Plus or Pro plans
- Assignments – require students to submit assignments at different points in the course
- Use across multiple WordPress sites
- Compatible with any WordPress theme
- Mobile compatible
LearnDash isn't free, but users repeatedly say that the value offered in this program compared to other commercial programs is very high. Annually priced plans start at $159 a year for a single site which is incredibly reasonable for the features you are going to get.
Compared with some of the limited features you get above and how much more refined LearnDash is, it is probably a much more strategic choice to pay the low yearly cost and work with the program from the start and avoid the time cost of a learning curve if you have to switch from one of these other programs at some point.
What is the Most Strategic Choice for You?
When considering what course creation and learning management software to go with, consider not only the purchase price of the software itself, but your time cost in learning how to use the system and any troubleshooting along the way.
Here's a list of criteria we encourage you to consider:
- Is the software being actively developed and improved?
- Does support quickly respond to issues so you can resolve your problems?
- How easy is the software to learn and use?
- Does the program give you enough marketing and sales flexibility to maximize potential earnings from your course?
- Will students enjoy using the system or will they become frustrated?
- Can the software scale to allow you to add more courses and high numbers of students?
At first it might seem like a good idea to learn the basics of course creation and selling with a free software option. However, if your course takes off and you need to move it to a better management and selling platform, you will have some headaches and time costs to consider. It might be best to start with a program you can grow into over time.
More Course Creation Intel
What is the most strategic way to develop an online course with the most chance of succeeding? We suggest a market-driven approach.
Don't bore your students. Instead, leave them encouraged and exhilirated to put into practice what you've taught.
Going through the time and expense of creating a course that doesn't sell is a terrible feeling. Learn how to do smart market research before building your course for the best chance to succeed.